BEHIND the scenes of Tom Butler and Sebastian Steudtner's winter sessions. These guys have been hammering on the door of European big wave surfing for a couple of years now and have built a rapport typical of heavy water teams. It's a brotherhood consisting of equal parts masochism and selflessness, in which you dedicate your life to putting your partner in the hairiest situations imaginable, hoping they make it out, whilst being there to pick up the pieces if it all goes wrong.
Seb and Tom are probably the youngest tow team in Europe dedicated to chasing these perfect storm systems, not too near to be on top of you, but close enough that the raw size is retained in the resultant swell. It's an odd life chasing big waves around Europe and one you certainly don't do for the money, a weird journey of long dark drives, aching eyes, dashed hopes and ocasional scores. We caught up Tom and Seb to find out a little more about what makes them tick.
Tell us, what was this winter about for Tom and Seabass?
Tom: Trying to reach that next level is what comes to my mind when I think of the past winter. I learned a lot, saw a lot, and achieved some of my goals - to push my limits and performance as far as I can and get a huge step closer to having my dream job. I've met legends, scared the shit out of myself and got to see a different world. There's no point worrying about catching all the sessions and being everywhere. I've just been scratching everything together to show off what I can do, and when I was in the right place and the right time it felt good."
Being a surf rat from Newquay it wasn't always easy, but I caught on pretty well. I have gotten a chance to do something big and make my way as a surfer and for that I am very grateful.Tom Butler
Seb: I had a lot of fun in the water this past winter and enjoyed the time I was able to spend in the ocean with my friends. To be able to surf more was a big upgrade for me and made me want to surf even harder. I started to paddle surf with Tom and Eric, Nazare wasn't the easiest place to do so and I took a few poundings no doubt. But as always dedication pays off and I was able to catch a few 20 footers out there. This winter, although I was sick for a few months, I've really enjoyed the quality of waves we have in Europe and love how raw everything is here. We all learned a lot about our equipment and what is needed to be confident paddling around in huge waves. Surfing big waves in freezing water is a lot more physically demanding and to have the right fitness, for what we are trying to do, will be the key going into the next winter season.
Which sessions stick in your mind?
Tom: We got our logistics in place to catch both Portugal and Ireland swells at the start of the winter and set ourselves up in Nazare as a base. There were a few sessions which edge into my mind that I would like to share.
When the Billabong crew came to paddle Nazare Sebastian was on the trusty 110HP Yamaha ski spotting me all session after barely being able to drag himself out of bed with a heavy bronchitis. He made it happen for me, watching my back. Shane's session would have been over after his first wave if it where not for Sebastian picking him up from the beach and bringing him back out into the lineup. Shane's back-up ski had been washed into shore but luckily Seabass was happy to go and rescue them from the hell of a shorebreak so they could enjoy their session. For me it was a mindset changing day and I learned to really push myself in big surf.
Another session that I will never forget was in Ireland a few weeks after that Nazare day with Dorian. The Mullaghmore contest had been but on amber on and I flew to Ireland pumped to surf the event. Seabass flew in from Germany suffering from the same lung infection. And then, as is the way with these contests it was called-off the night we got there. The next day Mully was inconsistent but grinding on the ledge at 20ft when they did come through and Seb caught a bomb. The next day we had a bonus session at Pmpa and I was just enjoying surfing with my friends in perfect heavy barrels. I found a family being on Sebastian's team, everyone has each-others backs, and now also mine. I entered a different world from what I was used to, or most people are used to.
What did you learn from this winter?
Tom: For me the steepest learning curve was arriving at Nazare and launching the Jetski into 25-30ft waves on our third day there. We had two days prep before the swell was due to hit so we drove into town, found a house to rent, strapped all the areas of a jetski that can be ripped off, and proceeded to go for a trial driving run out at Nazare the day before it got 30ft. The first evening was 15ft and onshore, no surfing, just feeling the place out on the ski, with flashbacks of horror stories from Garret earlier that day. It was by far the most hectic, powerful and unpredictable ocean I have ever seen. That first evening I was rushing like mad on my rescue pickups, coming in way too fast just shitting it about the wave behind me. I ran Sebastian straight over coming in on one, luckily he sensed my donkey approach and swam under the ski.
I want to see Tom and our friends enjoy what we do, push each other to go all out and get what we deserve. It’s simple goals, have a lot of fun, go hard and be happy with life.Seb Steudtner
So next day first surf up I was scared, in all honestly it's the most scared I've been, it made me sick to my stomach. Thankfully it went well. So what have I have learnt? I have learnt what it means when people put their trust in you. Being a surf rat from Newquay it wasn't always easy, but I caught on pretty well. I have gotten a chance to do something big and make my way as a surfer and for that I am very grateful.
And what about the future goals?
Tom: I want to make sure we have the right equipment for the job, we are just getting our jetskis tuned and prepared and I want to get a 10'6, 11'4 and maybe a 12'6 so I'm completely ready to paddle gigantic waves. Whether this be out at Nazare, some spots in Galicia or a huge Belharra swell. I want to be as active as possible, catch as many big swells in Europe as possible and make the most of what we have here on the beautiful Continent.
Seb: "My goal for the future, is before anything else, to be in the ocean all the time. I want to get my equipment dialed in and keep the focus on our big wave project which we will be starting in October this year. I want to see Tom and our friends enjoy what we do, push each other to go all out and get what we deserve. It's simple goals, have a lot of fun, go hard and be happy with life. Oh yeah..... and I want to learn how to do airs so I can kill Eric Ribiere on Instagram.